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Race and Racism in Othello, Mama Day and The Merchant of Venice

Published December 28, 2016 by lorijss

Race manifests itself in three particular works of fiction Shakespeare’s Othello,
The Merchant of Venice and Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day. Characters in these works experience racism in different ways. “Race” and Racism go hand in hand making it impossible to examine one without the other. Whether it be overt or subtle or expressed in a form that his religious. Hence, there is overt racism in Othello, color blind racism in Mama Day and religious discrimination that manifests itself as racism in The Merchant of Venice. An example of the later would be the Holocaust. That is precisely what we find Shylock experiencing, treated just like he is another “race” and that shows just how much of a social construct race is. Because of the different ways in which race is perceived, the word “race” will be used in quotation marks for this paper. Similarly, when Hitler was convinced that there was a race known as the Jewish one. In Mama Day, Cocoa tries to tie food to the culture of people whose race is inadvertently linked to their religion. Even though Othello faces racism numerous times, the same people in his social sphere that do that know they need him because of his militant skills. He has proven himself to be a distinguished warrior and established himself in such a way that the people, enemies, and friends alike, know that they need him. Shylock in The Merchant of Venice gets discriminated against because of his religion. However, Shylock might as well have been another “race” from everyone else with the manner in which he is treated. Examining the ways in which “race” affects the lives of the major characters, prominent in the varying types of racism that they face, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Mama Day, helps us to understand how it exists in a social and historical context. For when we see how it manifests itself in our world today, we can work to dismantle it and make society a better place.
In Mama Day Cocoa is forced to confront “race” while job hunting in New York City. She said, “it took me a while to figure out that New York racism moved underground like most of the people did.(18)” She then recounts when Mama Day and Grandma told her that there was a time when the want ads and the housing listings had colored and white sections. Cocoa turns this around and says it must have been easier to hunt for jobs then. You were spared having to run up and down all over the place. You knew where you could should and couldn’t shouldn’t go. Apparently, not everyone agrees with Cocoa when one of her “certain people” asked upset, “You mean you want to bring back racism?” She looked at the person as if they were a “fool.” She then clarifies that she only wanted them to bring the “clarity” back and that she wouldn’t have to waste so much money on public transportation tokens, not to mention time. Cocoa goes on to say that the ads that are labeled “Equal Opportunity Employer” might has well have said, “Colored apply” or “Take your chances.(19)”
Naylor does not let Cocoa go out and say explicitly that her experience is “colorblind” racism. She would rather show this to her readers in the novel. In order to understand the phenomenon of “color blind racism,” we must first define color-blind ideology. Jon Greenberg asserts that the term “color-blind” is problematic. It is best described as showing rather than telling. Colorblind ideology posits that discrimination, racism, and prejudice are a thing of the past and we are a colorblind society in which race does not matter. For Cocoa the fact that she is not getting hired in New York City is showing that there is a different kind of racism than in Mama Day and Grandma’s days. This is racism that is under a facade that race does not matter when people’s experiences and the results of their efforts, says that it does. Cocoa experience show us that this is a type of racism that hides itself under “Equal Opportunity Employer.” Hence, the name of this racism is colorblind. Cocoa elaborates further about a one-inch ad for an office manager position. She describes it as a “long job description so there wasn’t enough room to print,’Equal Opportunity Employer.(19)’” She said it could be half Jewish and that maybe they only wanted their own. It shows how a business could be advertising themselves as one thing but want another thing.
A belief that racism is an individual acting against another individual leads to another belief that the civil rights era has “leveled the playing field,” asserts scholar Margaret Zamudio and that any racial inequality is blacks not working hard—”individual and cultural deficiencies.” When we look at Mama Day, we see how relentless Cocoa has been in her search for employment. One can see that the inequality that results from colorblind ideology has nothing to do with how hard a person works. Colorblind racism is the dominant racism that have continued into the post civil rights era (Zamudio 2006). That is the era in which Cocoa lives. Naylor successfully uses Cocoa’s experience to explain the racism that results from a colorblind ideology.
In Merchant of Venice, we see the character Shylock face religious discrimination because he is a Jew. In order to better understand the social atmosphere of the play, let us examine the treatment of Jews in England during the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Russ McDonalds states that in the year 1290, Jews were cast out of England. He added that while some Jews did manage to live and work in Shakespeare London, the law was not actively enforced and was homogenous. At the summoning of Oliver Cromwell, Jew were no longer banned from England in 1655 (276). That is the historical atmosphere under which this play is written and performed. One can argue that Shylock’s experience is akin to racism because he is racialized because of his religion. When the merchant Antonio asks Shylock for money. It took Shylock some time to decide whether to lend Antonio the money. Shylock states that Antonio called him a “dog” and “spit” on him. Here is what he says to Antonio:
Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Shall have I borne it with a patient shrug,
The suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut throat, dog
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for the use of that which is mine own.(103-109)
Specifically, Shylock is saying that Antonio has insulted his business dealings. He adds that he is has borne it like any other Jew has according to him, Jews are good at putting up with maltreatment. He finally adds that Antonio has insulted and cursed at him and spit on his “gaberdine” which is his clothes. Shylock then adds, “Well then, it now appears you need my help.(110)” Shylock doesn’t stop there; he goes on to say Antonio kicked him like he’s kicked a dog. He then asks Antonio if a dog has money and if he, Antonio, can borrow money from a dog. Shylock continues to repeat what his experience with Antonio has been. This is the most poignant scene in the play that displays the extent of Shylock’s treatment. The revenge inside Shylock is barely scratching the surface. Antonio only edges the revenge out when he says that he is not going to stop treating Shylock the way he has been. That Shylock might as well lend him the money as a way to avenge himself if he does not pay the loan. The revenge he has against Antonio actually represents those times he has been treated poorly by not only Antonio but by “Christians.”
Throughout the play, Shylock is constantly differentiated as “The Jew.” Also, In the play, some of the people who are “Christians” see themselves as superior to Shylock and all other Jews. When Antonio loses all of the money that Shylock lends him, he takes this as an opportunity to exact his revenge on his maltreatment by not only Antonio but “Christians” in general. I advocate that when Shylock says “you” in the court, he is referring to who he views as Christians and when he says “your” he is referring to what or in this case, who belongs to the “Christians.” I will go further and state that Shylock’s constant repetition of the word, “you” doesn’t mean only Antonio but the repeated maltreatment of him by other “Christians” besides Antonio. The extent of Shylock’s experience with religious discrimination is evident in his Act 4 Verse 1 speech.In this scene, Shylock is in the court exacting his revenge against Antonio. Prior to this Antonio borrowed some money from Shylock.
“What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs? (88-93)
Here he asserts that the “Christians” work their slaves like animals and that they think that they are justified in making their slaves perform these awful jobs because they bought them. I will go as far as saying that Shylock’s mention of slaves could shed light on the extent of his treatments by “Christians.” Shylock uses this as an argument because he is treated almost as such, a slave. He argues that “Christians” own slaves and if he ever tells them to set their slaves free and to have them marry their children they would not want to do it. Shylock is showing how easy it is for “Christians” to be “racist” against Shylock, if they already have human beings in bondage. It also demonstrates the racism of the “Christians” towards not only Jews but apparently to the slaves they own who are human beings. By virtue of how he is being treated in Venice, Shylock identifies somewhat with, according to him, the slaves that “Christians” own. He would not have brought slavery up in the first place if he did not identify with human beings in bondage. Like the slaves of the “Christians”, he is also viewed as inferior. That is why Shylock carries on his argument so fervently. Who better to articulate the immorality of slavery than Shylock? A “Jew” who has been treated as if he is not human.
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season’d with such viands? You will answer
“The slaves are ours:” so do I answer you: (94-97)

Shylock’s speech hints that the slaves should be treated like and entitled to what their masters entitle themselves to. Shylock continues his argument asking sarcastically if he can tell them to free their slaves, exclaim on how hard they work them, make the beds that they sleep on as soft as their own and make them eat their food. The repetitive use of the word “they” here is contingent on Shylock’s use of the word “you.” Shylock then predicts that the “Christians” would object to all of the above and say that the slaves are theirs.
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgment: answer; shall I have it?” (97-100)
He then goes into saying that he would answer the same as they’d answer, that the pound of flesh is his. He concludes that if he is refused what he wants, the laws of Venice are not valid.
The latter four lines of Shylock’s speech switches back into a different Shylock. Perhaps he at once sympathized with the slaves why that speech sounded so anti-slavery. But now he is just revenge seeking, possibly blinded by it.
In Mama Day Cocoa continued reference to people as food reveals how she has been treated. Cocoa refers to people as food when she calls Asians “kumquats” and Puerto Ricans “Tacos.”
“Why are people food to you?’ George decides to ask Cocoa on one of their dates in New York City.
“That’s a disgusting thing to say,” Cocoa responded.(62)
Then George goes on to explain that Cocoa has been saying that most of the evening, “fudge sticks, kumquats, bagels, zucchinis,” and that she called, “Herman Badillo a taco.(62)”
After getting to know George and New York Cocoa changes her views on people in New York City. “And best of all, you’d stop calling people food,” said George about Cocoa. (100)
Cocoa explains that she was scared coming to live in New York City and that not used to her neighborhood having more people than the island she was raised on —Willow Springs. She says that the way she talks is her way of always being in the dark about what to expect from anybody. Shylock is like that in the sense that he didn’t know his daughter, Jessica would Elope with Lorenzo. Cocoa tells George that she is not a Bigot and that if she sounds like one, it is because she is “as frightened of….difference as they are. (63) ” This suggests that Cocoa is aware of differences that people judge to see in her and like Shylock is just as afraid as the ones who might judge her. In Shylock’s case, that would be the “Christians” in Venice— the ones that judge him.
Shylock is like Cocoa in that he is behaving towards others the same way they have acted towards him but it seems for Shylock that is more severe. D. M Cohen asserts that Christians hate Jews because they killed Jesus Christ, and that is the root of the persecution of Jews by “Christians.” He then brings into play authors such as John Palmer and Harold Goddard, who express a view of Shylock as a manifestation of the Jewish heritage of persecution and suffering. That is a Shylock that has been done wronged by the world he inhabits and who symbolizes a tortured people. The treatment of Shylock is echoed in his speech about the “Christians” that own slaves.
Shylock is not the only one to experience racism in The Merchant of Venice. There is racism towards The Prince of Morocco that is often overlooked by scholars. Portia, a wealthy heiress, is governed by the choices of her dead father. He leaves a will stating that she can marry whoever picks the right casket covering the picture of her. Portia judges Morocco harshly in the play. That harsh judgment points to a difference in Morocco’s physical appearances. Morocco chooses the wrong casket that does not contain her picture. In response, Portia says behind his back when he is out of hearing distance, “A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains and go. Let all of his complexion choose me so.(78-9)” In other words, she was glad that the dark skinned Morocco did not choose silver and hoped that every man with his “complexion” would choose wrong also.
Background of Africans in London
Mcdonald asserts that Londoners of Shakespeare’s London were exposed to Africans. They were objects of curiosity and so dehumanized shows the homogeneity of the culture and the “cultural anxieties”(176) that Londoners, I add, allowed themselves to feel around strangers. Instead of Mcdonald’s “strangers tended to generate.(176)” I wonder then about the perspective of the “stranger.” While reading Othello, I think of how a Jamaican would react differently in similar circumstances because of cultural upbringings. This led me to the conclusion that since Shakespeare was European because he grew up British, he will naturally have his characters behave European. The Moor in Othello, known as Othello, is portrayed as has black skin but he behaves European. This shows that Shakespeare possibly didn’t know anyone that was “black” so he didn’t portray the character as authentically from any North African culture. Scholar, Mary Preston argues that Othello was “in reality Black but in character white.” This is quite different than when one argues that Shakespeare is racist because of how he portrayed Othello, who is a black man, as someone who couldn’t understand his wife and murdered her, an innocent woman. Phyillis Braxton goes on to assert that making Othello black does not do anything to the play’s storyline. She suggests that the reasons for the character’s black skin areinherent in the dramatic elements of character and plot. Also, she purports that the motive of jealousy in the play does not require Othello to be black (10). I agree to a certain extent and want to add that it does nothing to the storyline because Othello is essentially European. If the portrayal of Othello was of a culture that was not European, that would be expressed in his experiences as an immigrant. Additionally, immigrants experience culture shock then assimilation when they come into a new culture and environment. Any possible advent of Othello’s assimilation in Venice is omitted from the play. I think that would have made Othello’s “race” more vividly essential to Othello’s storyline.
Othello is ‘black in as far as everyone else around him who is predominantly white or caucasian call him so. Phyllis Braxton states that Othello calls himself “black.(3)” I want to add that, Othello only calls himself “black” because the people around him call him so. Rather, when Othello says, “Haply for I am black” (266-67) it is him internalizing the view of him by those around him. He does go on to say, “As Dian’s visage is now begrimed and black as mine own face.(293-93)” Roderigo, A Venetian gentleman, sets the stage for Iago viewing Othello in racial terms when he describes Othello behind his back as “the thick lips.(3)” The latter is what seals the deal for there being no question as to what Shakespeare wanted Othello’s physique to be. Braxton states that the “thick lips” is a “common feature to native Africans and their descendants.(3)” She then adds that the playwright seems to have chosen these physical features to clearly distinguish Othello from native inhabitants of Venice and would make the character foreign to an audience of Englishmen.(10) We know that Roderigo dislikes Othello because he is supposedly in love with Othello’s wife, Desdemona.
Racism towards Othello is overt and rampant throughout the play. Jealousy and hatred towards Othello doesn’t stop at Roderigo. Iago serves Othello who is his general and establishes his jealousy of Othello when he says, “Another of his fathom have they none/To do their business…” (153-54) In other words, even though Iago hates Othello because he did not promote him to the rank of lieutenant, he admits that there lacks a man that can get the job done better than Othello. Scholar Philip Mason notes that when Iago speaks to Brabantio about Othello he does so from the “dark” and from the “Shadow” when he says in scene 1: “Even now, now, very now, and old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe. Arise! Arise! (88-9)
I would like to add the effect of Shakespeare having Iago say this in the dark. It is an effective metaphor that serves to show the overarching racism towards Othello. Iago speaks to Brabantio from the dark to distort Othello’s character to Brabantio by associating darkness of the night with skin color and making both seem evil. He is successful because Brabantio replies: “It is too true and evil. Gone she is,(161)” That eventually leads to Brabantio executing orders, “And raise some special officers of the night!” (183) The later adds to the notion that because Othello is dark in skin tone, he should be treated differently and that because it is night Brabantio has to get some officers that are good at dealing with things when it is dark out. All of the above only highlights the racism that ensues Othello. It is those experiences that make him have to prove himself to his fair-skinned acquaintances by being an outstanding general.
Mason states that Othello is constantly “racialized” by Iago. When he manipulated Othello to the point of “suspicion” and “agitation” by telling him that if she deceived her father, she can deceive him also. Mason also argues that Iago—“a man coldly obsessed with sex” and “unable to love” is the kind of man one can expect to also be “racialist.” I would like to add that Iago racializes Othello in order to be racist towards him. So Iago being a man that is lustful would clearly be one that is focused on the physical and so would be racist as he still would be focused on the physical except now in appearances. I suspect that Mason does not deem Iago to be racist because of his jealousy towards Othello. That means that he being jealous of Othello means that he believes that Othello is “better” than him. That is evident in the fact that Othello is a General and in a far superior militant position to Iago. Iago does not even consider yet to take Othello’s place; he only hates that Cassio was promoted instead of him and wants Cassio’s position as lieutenant. Mason elaborates further that Othello’s doubt of Desdamona’s love for him spurred on by Iago, is rooted in “racialism” when Othello says, “And Yet how mature erring from itself…(232)” and is unable to finish the sentence (158). When Iago states, “Of her own clime, complexion and degree. (235)” That is precisely when Iago plunges the knife deeper into Othello’s insecurity. (Mason 158)” Daniel J. Witkus notes textual evidence of Othello’s blackness serving as a contrast to Desdemona’s white innocence.(173) I want to add that this is when Iago’s racism towards Othello is at it’s climax. Its as if Iago is saying that Desdemona did not truely want the dark-skinned Moor and she actually wanted one of Venice, Cassio. He also tries to establish himself as superior to Othello through his manipulation and trickery that is left unchecked by Othello.
Shylock is the one that is “racialized” because there is no textual evidence stating that Shylock’s skin complexion is any different from say that of Antonio or Portia like the way Morocco or Othello’s is. When Portia enters the court, she asks, “which is the merchant here and The Jew?(169)” Shylock is racialized and mistreated for being a Jew throughout the play. Othello was already dark-skinned, so he is not necessarily racialized when compared to Shylock. The later is first racialized only to face religious discrimination incredibly akin to racism. Both Othello and Shylock are needed for some special skill. Othello is needed because of his above-average militant skills. While Shylock is needed because of his money and in that time Jews could only open banks and weren’t allowed to invest their money anywhere else (Siegfried 2016).
Both Othello and Morocco face racism as they are judged by their complexions. As evidenced earlier Iago, Roderigo and Brabanzio are all racist towards Othello, and constantly refer to him as the Moor. Portia is also racist towards Morocco. Both Othello and Morocco feel that they have to defend their complexion in a society that constantly brings attention to difference in their appearances, specifically skin color. This is how Moroco defends himself: “Mislike me not for my complexion,/ The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun,/ To whom I am a neighbor and near bred.(2.1.1)” Like Othello, Morocco feels like he has to defend his appearances by being twice as better than other men that do not have those appearances. That is why Morocco does not just stop there and continues, “I tell thee, lady, this aspect of mine/Hath feared the valiant.(2.1.9)” Othello, as discussed earlier, is forced to defend himself by showcasing his bravery and militancy. He can be seen as a more in-depth version of Morocco. Both Othello and Morocco are not racialized compared to Shylock, who “looks” no different than the “Christians.” Both Othello and Morocco’s “race” gets talked about behind their backs in the play. In their behavior, they sense that this is the case and have it done to their faces too.
Shylock’s treatment by the people in Venice seems to be much worse than Morocco’s. This leads to the assumption that Shylock has character traits that make him susceptible to constant bullying. It is not only that he is labeled “the Jew.” Morocco basks in being treated differently and proclaims that his dark skin color is what makes supposedly brave men fear him. While Morocco acts the star, Shylock constantly feels victimized. In his insistence that he gets a piece of Antonio’s flesh, lies the kind of revenge that indicates a tiredness of being bullied and the need for dignity like Morocco’s.
Both Othello and Cocoa experience insecurities about their appearances in reference to their significant other and it can be argued that insecurity has to do with “race” and racism. Cocoa and her husband George get into their “worst fight ever. (230-232)” Cocoa is getting dressed for an evening out which would have guests that she went to school with. She wants to get extra special for the occasion as she doesn’t want the guests that all know her to think he “couldn’t get any other woman but [her] (233)” and asks George how she looks. When he answered that she looks fine, she was unsatisfied with that answer and didn’t think George was being honest. She tells George, “I think you’re the last authority on make up for me since you spend all your time running around with white women before I rescued you.(233)” They then go into a squabble about who is being stupid and Cocoa pouts, “Well I’m sure all your white women weren’t ignorant.” George responds, “A Woman—Shawn. Shawn! (234)” Here George employs “colorblind ideology” that Cocoa does not adhere which we see earlier from her experience job hunting in New York City. George would rather he and his wife see Shawn as a woman and not as a white woman. However, perhaps Cocoa is already under a knowledge that Shawn has gotten her job or has gotten to George first because of her “race.” This leads us back to when Zamudio and other scholars state that, “given the forty years of real or [illusory] gains of a substantial number of people of color, whites [purport] that race is no longer a …significant obstacle for people of color” (484). Under this framework, George is one with those gains—a successful engineer, so he adheres to the colorblind ideology of most whites. While Cocoa coming from the rich black heritage of Willow Springs sees otherwise. George, an African American, sympathizes with the slave owner, Bascombe Wade, at his grave following that argument with Cocoa (248).
When one looks at a hierarchy of race in Othello’s social sphere, he starts to think he is not good enough for his wife, Desdemona, “the white ewe.” When he fully believes Iago, or rather, Iago’s successful manipulation is through that insecurity that has developed in Othello through his experience with racism. We have seen it from Iago and Brabantio, whose treatment of him as if he is lesser than them and not good enough for Desdemona. Even though he has proven himself because he was led to feel as if he should. Cocoa, possibly like Othello, has to work harder and like Othello has garnered more in reward. In Cocoa’s case, that would be she wins George over Shawn and in Othello’s, a reputation and superior warrior skills than his fellow light-skinned soldiers. Both Cocoa and Othello develop character even though Othello had a tragic end.
Race and racism plays significant roles in Mama Day, Othello and The Merchant of Venice. Sometimes fiction can help us to see events that we would not be able to see otherwise. We understand the interplay of race and racism in all three works. We see how racism affects how the characters view themselves and how they navigate their world. I think Morocco is the only character that finds some way to use his “race” to what he perceives to be an advantage. There are examples of that when he says men fear him and also when he states that girls adore him because he’s “different.” One can argue that the overt or traditional racism like that towards Othello is not significant in present day United States. However, with recent incidents like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, a combination of the two exists today. The racism that stems from “colorblind ideology,” that scholars call “colorblind” racism is the dominant form in the 21st century. Jews are still beings persecuted around the world today. Seeing “race” and racism come full circle in the three works discussed builds empathy and understanding and helps us to be more culturally and racially sensitive.
Works Cited
Braxton, Phyllis Natalie. “Othello: The Moor and the Metaphor”. South Atlantic Review 55.4 (1990): 1–17.
Cohen, D. M. “The Jew and Shylock.” Shakespeare Quarterly 31.1 (1980): 53-63. Print.
Greenberg, Jon. “7 Reasons Why ‘Colorblindness’ Contributes to Racism Instead of Solves It.” Everyday Feminism. Everyday Feminism Magazine, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
Naylor, Gloria. Mama Day. New York: Vintage, 1993. Print.
Mason, Philip. “Othello and Race Prejudice”. Caribbean Quarterly 8.3 (1962): 154–162. Print.
McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. 2nd ed.
Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2001. Print
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and Katharine
Eisaman Maus.The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets. 2nd ed. New York:
W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
—.The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and
Katharine Eisaman Maus.The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets. 2nd ed.
New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
Siegfried, Brandie. “The Merchant of Venice.” Lecture. Jesse Knight Building, Provo. 7 Mar. 2016.
Vitkus, Daniel J.. “Turning Turk in Othello: The Conversion and Damnation of the Moor”. Shakespeare
Quarterly 48.2 (1997): 145–176. Print.
Zamudio, Margaret M., and Francisco Rios. “From Traditional to Liberal Racism: Living Racism in the
Everyday”. Sociological Perspectives 49.4 (2006): 483–501. Print.

Virginity for Dorigen and Alisoun

Published December 10, 2015 by lorijss

Virginity for Dorigen and Alisoun
I. Introduction
Most critics overlook the importance of virginity in both Geoffrey Chaucer’s “the Wife of Bath’s tale” and to a lesser extent “the Franklins’ Tale.” Examining what virginity means to Alisoun and her failure, despite her efforts, to prove to herself that marriage is superior to virginity will help us to see her struggle in expressing love. In “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” Alisoun emphasizes virginity which she equates with cleanliness, purity and morality. She attributes “losing” her purity to being involved in a man’s world and this is expressed through her guilt about being a sinful wife.  In “the Franklin’s Tale,” Dorigen on the other hand honors virginity and chastity in her lament which makes her forget that she were ever married to Averagus if only for a while to drift off into this otherworldly notion of virginity.
Alisoun made sure that she was getting “paid not played.” Her marriage for the most part was not based on love so it could not possibly prevail over virginity in all its shapes and forms – physical or emotional view. She equates losing her virginity to being in a man’s world and this is expressed through her guilt about being a sinful wife. She then goes into a discussion on how imperfect barley represents marriage while purified wheat represents virginity. However, Alison—the Wife of Bath does not prove that these two barleys are on equal footing due to this physical view of virginity as not only barley but a prize to be won. Virginity then is important to The Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale and to Alison’s behavior as a wife.
Both women present virginity at the onset of their failed or failing marriages. Dorigen does this in the moment of being forced to keep the promise she made to Averagus while Alisoun does this at the beginning of her prologue, knowing that all her five marriages, particularly the last four ones, as failed. Specifically, Alison turns to virginity near the beginning of her prologue after a brief unsuccessful attempt at proving that marriage on top of marriage, was the way to go. Dorigen’s lament is more applicable to Alison in the Wife of Bath’s Tale than to Dorigen herself only because Alisoun is the exact opposite of the women Dorigen listed. The women Dorigen talks about exemplified chastity and virtue and knew what love was and as a result were willing to die for it. Her lament’s brings virginity closer to love which as a more emotional standpoint. When we compare Alison to the women in Dorigen’s lament, this begs the question, did Alison have her way because she was not particularly virtuous and didn’t care about love? Alison’s view of virginity is physical she does not prove that her marriage superseded it. Evidently, Alisoun’s latter view of virginity and Dorigen’s emotional view of it, as a much larger and extensive role than is otherwise admitted by themselves within the tales, to readers and scholars respectively. One view more damaging than the other.
Firstly, in order to delve more into virginity let us first attempt to understand how virginity was viewed in the Middle Ages: Referring to The Physician’s Tale, Sandra Prior states that in medieval Christian understanding virginity meant purity and innocence. It was the most important part of purity in mankind, virginity was what made humans a worthy sacrifice to God. Virginity, she states, then is “protected like it is a special good or chattel, what is being protected is the physical goods – the body” (Prior 172). Hence, Dorigen and Alisoun both upholding virginity is but a reflection of the middle age Christian ideology that virginity is purity. Only this medieval view of virginity as purity does Dorigen express. The idea that virginity was the “prized good or chattel” of the body, explains why Alisoun’s seems to focus so much on the physical aspects of most of her marriages. Alisoun having, laid the foundation of “virginity” being a physical good proceeds to having all her marriages mainly focused on physical intimacy in exchange for money.
Let us examine further how Alisoun fails to show how marriage is superior to virginity due to her physicality of it. Charles W. M Henebry states that the Wife, shows the superiority of marriage, “with the defense of marriage against the claims of St. Jerome” (146-147). Specifically, when she states that if everyone where to live like virgins for the rest of their lives, human beings would seize to exist. This statement shows her emotionally distant view of virginity as she herself does not have any children. Granted, she wanted marriage to be superior but did not succeed in proving to herself that it actually was. She says that the prize is set for virginity and whoever can, can win it —“The dart is set up for virginitee; / Cacche who so may: who rennet best lat see. (74-5).” To her virginity is a physical prize, like a chattel to be won. This shows that she upholds virginity even after her attempt to convince herself that marriage is superior to virginity by the use of Jerome. She also says, “virginitee is greet perfeccioun/ And continence eek with devocioun.(105-106)” is another attempt at upholding virginity which undermines her subsequent attempts at asserting any superiority of marriage to virginity. After this she turns gears and begins to describe the economical and psychological domination that her marriage was based on. She asserts:
“I would no longer in the bed abyde
If that I felt his arm over my syde
Till that he had maad his raunson unto me
Thanne wolde I sufre hym do his nycetee.” (409-12).
This shows that in exchange of going to bed with her husband he has to pay her. Marriage based on such ideals could not possibility be superior to virginity. The fact that she goes into a monologue about what virginity means to her shows that she has not figured out how to make her marriage on a higher threshold than virginity.
The underlying impact that Jankyn’s book of wicked wives had on Alison, is of the good wife or good woman not making an influence, because she doesn’t exist. Marriage for the most part as caused Alison’s pain and heartache. Having gotten married at the age of twelve, she has not had foundational knowledge of healthy marital love. Alison’s fourth husband was a wanderer, and that just thinking of him makes her “drift off” into thoughts of her not being young anymore. However, this can also imply that they both could possibly have cheated on each other. This can be interpreted as she wandering about to find other men and her husband wandering about to find other women. In her retaliation to this “cheating” she did all she could to make him jealous and to exert dominance over him. Her fifth marriage was important in that it was a marriage to a young man and this brought her closer to her youthful days of virginity – the only thing she actually loves. However all hell breaks loose on this nostalgic reason for choosing a younger man when her husband Janekyn chooses to spend his time reading a book about “wikkyd wyves.(685)” When Alice rips three pages out of her husband’s book Book of Wicked Wives, it isn’t jealousy as many scholars are so quick to say, it is guilt. It is an expression of her guilt complex of her not being a “good” wife — devoted, loving and faithful. Not only to Janekyn but to all her previous husbands as well. If she were a “good” wife, Jankyn would have no need to be reading books about evil women and she being a virtuous wife would have dispelled his notions of or acute interest in wicked wives. She stated that he knew more about wicked women “than been of gode wyves in the Bible. (687)” Does this mean that he did not acknowledge his own wife Alisoun as being a good woman? Apparently not, so now she has a guilt complex that Jankyn is only interested in books of these contents because of her. Alisoun is guilty that her expression of love was not enough to counteract her youngest spouse’s keen interest in tales of wicked women. I agree with Storm Melvin that her physical and spiritual barrenness does not spring forth – “good words or good works.(300)” I add that she is physically barren because she is not in love at this moment.
When Alison rips three pages out of her husband’s book (790), this brings into play another complication. She does not talk about how she felt about Jankyn reading misogynistic literature, she only said that he were reading tales about wikkid wives. Let us delve into why Alison’s prologue cannot be trusted wholly. One reason is her distortion of biblical doctrines. She argues that it is okay for her to have more than one husband because of King Solomon (44). She stated that she wished it were lawful for her like king Solomon to be “refreshed” each time she got married (38). Then she exclaims at how it was a gift from God that he had so many wives. She then goes on to say that he was happy with each of his wives and all his wives and him were living joyfully (35-43). She evades noting that it was precisely this that lead to his downfall. Then she talks about Abraham and Jacob who had more than two wives (55-57). She does this in order to absolve her guilt of having gotten married five times with her he-did-it-so-I can-do-it-too-stance. Her spiritual bareness is evident in these distortion of biblical doctrines which would be unlikely if she were spiritual. These distortions lend a hand to her marriages predominantly economically based where Alison consents to bed with her husbands in exchange for finance. So it is no surprise that feelings mean little to Alisoun, adding to her unspirituality..
The three pages symbolizes the three old men that she has had such an unsatisfactory marriage with and represents revenge on all those years of sex without love. She ripping three leaves out of Jankyn’s book can also represent the revenge of rape or sexual exploitation on behalf of the maiden in the tale. This behavior alludes to the quote, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” One of the pages out of the ripped three represents towards her virginity being “ripped” from her at a young age. The other two pages represents her dissatisfaction with her old husbands who could not perform in bed all the way to their graves. This is but a payback to all her husbands for having lost her virginity in an economical manner that as left her, “spiritually barren.” For her virginity, like the book to her husband – is and was her most “prized possession.” She also hits Jankyn in the face (792), when one would think ripping the pages out of his book was enough. So she is not just retaliating to her last husband but to all her prior husbands as well. Therefore her experiences are piled up and she is lashing these out on the last younger husband, Jankyn assuming that he can take a hit better than an old man. Doloras Poloma asserts that the rape in the tale, represents for Alisoun a transition from innocent, pure virgin to corruptible wife (4). Unbeknownst to Jankyn, he reacts in a violent manner, hitting Alisoun so hard that she dropped to the floor and was left deaf (795). The ripping of the pages not only represents revenge of the maiden that got raped in Alisoun’s tale, but suggests why she is immediately omitted out of the story after the rape. Her exclusion only makes sense when we consider that we already see the reprisal of the raped maiden in Alisoun’s behavior towards Jankyn.
Alisoun also took the time out to tell a long tale to showcases her power and ability as a woman. In the tale a knight is just returning from war. He sees a fair maiden and rapes her. Everyone in the kingdom is shocked and he is taken to the palace where King Author allows the queen to decide the knight’s fate for raping the maiden. I agree with Poloma that the rape in the tale represents for Alisoun a loss of her supposed purity and youth. I would add that she is still grappling to reclaim or overcome that loss through a means far from love. The fact that the woman decides what happens to the knight, represents what Alisoun sees as female power over a man after he has done something wrong. When Janekyn thought that he killed Alisoun, he gives her the power to decide what happens in their relationship. This is similar to when the king hands over to the queen the power to determine the faith of the rapist knight.
Also most critics do not seem to question whether the knight can actually take the maiden’s virginity since rape is an act of forceful violence. For example, William Kamowski, states that, “besides committing a rape, the knight has stolen from his young victim her maidenhood” (8). I do not believe that her virginity was actually taken from her because she did not consent to having sex with the knight so by virtue she is still a virgin. These critics fail to acknowledge the emotional aspects of virginity like Alisoun. How does Alisoun fail to do this? She herself states that the knight “takes away” the maiden’s virginity evidently not attributing virginity to a state of mind as she detaches it from its emotional component. She attributes virginity to something of a prized physical good hence why a man can steal or take it away. If virginity is something emotional can it be as “taken away” as easily?
The origins of Allison’s focus on the physical is in medieval views of virginity as a physical good — “prized chattel,” which in turn formed the foundation of her marriages. This focus on the physical as evidenced through her prized-chattel view on virginity also forms the foundation of her focus on physical attraction. The Wife goes on to describe that “during the funeral she was struck by the handsomeness of Jankyn’s feet (Henebry 154).” Most scholars do not discuss the significance of this line, which displays physical attraction being the main focus of her heterosexual relationships.
“As help me God! Whan that I saugh him go
After the bere, me thought he hadde a paire
Of leggess and of feet so clene and faire
That al myn herte I yaf unto his hold.(595-599)”

This shows us that physical attraction is precisely how she got all her husbands, perhaps not the first since she were only twelve years old. It also shows the importance of physical attraction to Alison and suggests that she herself partly used this to her advantage in her attainment of husbands. She also talks about how she having a gapped tooth worked to attract Jankyn, “gat-tothed as I was, and that bicam me weel; (603)” According to the editors of the Norton Anthology, to be gap toothed in medieval handbooks of physiognomy, meant to have a “bold” and “lascivious” nature (115). Peter G. Beidler discusses the physical appearance of Alisoun, specifically concerning the line, “A foot-mantel aboute hir hips large,” where he tries to convince Chaucer’s readers of the possibility of them being wrong about reading that line to mean that the Wife of Bath has large hips. Most people, he asserts, including himself read this as literally meaning that Alisoun has large hips. Beidler argues that because Chaucer is writing in middle English we can take into possibility that what Chaucer meant is for “large” to be read as an adverb describing how her “foot-mantle was draped loosely around her hips, rather than as an adjective describing the size of her hips” keeps readers focused on what he believes Chaucer can only see—which is her clothes. So Beidler’s speculation is that “large” means “loose.” I will reverse this hypothesis to claim that sometimes the easiest explanation is the truest. Perhaps she does have big hips and it can be shown under her garments and it is her hips that is a part of the reason, (however small or large that is) in her getting husbands. Were her hips part of her physical attractiveness? The fact that she is financially independent in those times tells us that she for the most part had her way with all her husbands, financially. There is a connection between her having “large hips” and her four husbands. This adds weight to how she was able to continue attracting husbands than if her garments were being “loosely worn.” This same physical attraction attribute spills over into the Tale where the knight lusted after the physical attraction of the maiden through rape. Chaucer seeing only The Wife’s clothes does not add any significance to the Prologue and especially the Tale. Alisoun’s own obsession with physical aspects of relationship with her overt expression of sexual favors tells us that Chaucer wanted us to see Alison the way she was and the way she was, was a physically focused individual. In return this was how she saw others and virginity – physically.
Dorigen’s lament is very applicable to Alisoun, the fact that this is even possible gives one a clue as to how Chaucer might’ve ended the Canterbury Tales had he completed it, although this is not what this paper is about. Dorigen’s lament implies that virginity is the best existence for a women. She drifts off into this otherworldly notion of virginity forgetting for a moment, vows of marriage and the pain of having to keep them. Her lament gives rise to numerous virgin women that would rather commit suicide than to be exploited by men. Alisoun in contrasts flips the script on this and exploits men for their money thereby eluding sexual exploitation. Then Dorigen’s goes on to talk about women who would rather die than lose the chastity that they have kept. “Hath ther nat many a noble wyf er this/ Ad many a mayd, y-slayne hirself, allas!/ Rather than with hir body doon trespas. (1364-66)” Alisoun would rather live and couldn’t care less about being faithful to her husband as long as she is cashing in. However financial security comes at an expense with her “spiritual bareness” and lack of a convincing expression of love. In this striking contrast between Dorigen’s lament and Alison’s traits we are given a clearer picture of Alisoun’s personality — one that outlived five husbands due to her physical focus on virginity which ensured that money would help her to survive. Chaucer would have connected Dorigen and Alisoun’s character on a way that would allow them to learn from and or complimented each other.
II. Virginity for Dorigen
Dorigen’s view of virginity is more emotional and this helps readers to be more convinced that the marriage reconciliation at the end of the tale with Averagus would have a happy-ever after. Dorigen talks about the fifty virgins who would rather die than be raped by men whom they apparently have no feelings for. Dorigen ties virginity to dignity and the necessity of having feelings for men, hence a deduction is made of her emotional view of virginity. This view is responsible for her being able to show her feelings for Averagus whereupon Aurelius acquiesced and broke the prior vow she made with him so that she could return to her husband, Averagus. Another way to interpret this is that Aurelius could interpret her facial expressions and see whom she truly wanted to be with. So just before Aurelius releases Dorigen from the vow he states “…I see well your distress…/I have wel levere evere to suffer wo/Than I departe the love bitwix yow two” (1528-1532). Aurelius is simply reflecting what he could read about Dorigen. Hence Dorigen’s emotional view of virginity set the stage for her view of her marriage as likewise emotional. In essence, she is more responsible for Aurelius breaking the vow with her than is otherwise noted by readers and scholars, including the feminist interpretation that Aurelius denied Dorigen the power of choice. Dorigen’s emotional stance towards virginity makes a more convincing happily-ever after with her husband Averagus.
Now that a clearer picture of Alisoun as now been painted, her Tale will be examined as one that does not prove any superiority of marriage to herself and possibly to her fellow pilgrims. Firstly the rapist knight is a representation of her husbands who have supposedly stolen her innocence and made her “corruptible.” However, in the tale we do not hear of the rape-victim. We see the knight searching far and wide to find out what women truly desires, if he does not find the answer to this in a year he will have his head taken by order of the Queen to King Arther. When he finally reaches upon an old woman, commonly referred to as the hag, he promises that he will do whatever she wants in exchange for the answer; then she gives him the answer. What Allison is trying to say through the hag in the tale, is that she Allison is older and more experienced and knows what a woman wants due to all her experiences specifically those that she has had with numerous men. Noticed that before he stumbles upon the hag there were numerous younger woman telling him all sorts of responses concerning what a woman wants that did not feel right until he finally got to the hag. They both go to the court and the night tells the queen what he has learned from the old woman.
My life lady, generally quote he,
wommen desyren to have sovereyntee
As well over hir housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistre him above. (1037-40)
When we fast forward to this and the hag asks the knight if he would have a young and beautiful woman that is not faithful but cheats or a hag that will be faithful for time and eternity. Then Allison posits that the night and the hag lives happily ever after. There is one critical dilemma here, what becomes of the maiden? Can this couple, specifically the knight who as supposedly learned his lesson, live in happiness not knowing what became of the raped maiden? Love is a juxtaposition here, an isolated incidence of violence is a predisposition to love. This does not prove any superiority to virginity, at least from Allison’s Tale. This only tells us that in order to have a successful marriage there must be an act of violence that links to some form of happiness in a relationship.
Another example for when violence is seen as a catalyst for love is when critics like Warren Smith believe that when women such as Laodamia and Portia in Dorigen’s lament kill themselves rather than live without their husbands, “it only serves to verify the depth of their love. (387)” One can even argue that this is in stark contrast to Allison because in no way form or shape would she kill herself rather than live without her husbands. Evidently a woman killing herself rather than being with another man after her husband’s death is not an act of love but rather a retaliation to her oppression and the limitations in her choices. Suicide—violence should never be an expression of love under any circumstance. Also, there is one thing Alison would say contributed to her supposedly happy marriage, a beating from her husband who is twenty years younger than her.
III. Conclusion
Separating the Tale from the Prologue, the rapist knight living happily ever after with the hag does not dispel a possible revenge from the maiden. When the Tale and Prologue is joined together, the violated maiden as already gotten her revenge through Alisoun hitting Jankyn and ripping the pages of his book. After Alisoun scares Jankyn into thinking she was dead after he hit her, Alisoun and Jankyn’s abuse of each other leads to an unconvincing happy-ever-after, where Jankyn allows Alisoun to call the shots out of his own guilt and fear. The hag teaches the knight a critical lesson to allow the woman to have what her heart desires, but there is still this underlying notion that some sort of violence —rape must be the instigator of some happy marriage. Since the knight did rape the maiden. Alison’s marriages have been based on superficial elements – sex, money and a fight of dominance in the relationship. Hence physical, economic and fury based marriages cannot supersede virginity and the Pilgrim audience must caution themselves after hearing The Wife of Bath’s Tale.
Alison and Dorigen to a lesser extent tales prove that virginity is the best existence for a woman when a marriage is failing or have failed. Alison tales if anything proves that violence, money and sex are the physical components that predominate all of her marriages stemming from her indoctrination of virginity as something physical. Alison’s prologue and tale also ended up only proving that virginity — though her view of it was physical, was better. However, the proof was done in a manner that served to corrupt her, her perception of love and maneuverings of her marriages. Her physical view of virginity ended up making her happily-ever-after tale with Jankyn doubtful especially since, she even outlives Jankyn. Not only that, her happily ever after ending of the hag and the knight is also unconvincing because both ignored a possible revenge from the raped maiden. Dorigen tale on the other hand upheld virginity only briefly in the hectic moment of feeling as if she had to keep a vow she made with Averagus. This was dissipated owing to her emotional view of virginity which formed the foundation of her viewing her marriage emotionally, then in essence saving it. Female and male antagonism can only be dissipated with love of a spiritual and emotional base and not through physicality of violence or dominance..
Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale.” The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and
the General Prologue. Comp. and ed. V. A. Kolve, and Glending Olson. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 212-33. Print.
Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. New
York: W.W. Norton, 2013. Print.
Beidler, Peter G. “Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s “Foot-Mantel” and Her “Hipes Large.” The Chaucer
Review 34.4 (2000): 388-97. Web.
Henebry, Charles W. M. “Apprentice Janekyn/Clerk Jankyn: Discrete Phases in Chaucer’s
Developing Conception of the Wife of Bath.” The Chaucer Review 32.2 (1997): 146-
61. Print.
Kamowski, William. “The Sinner Against the Scoundrels: The Ills of Doctrine and “Shrift” in the
Wife of Bath’s, Friar’s and Summoner’s Narratives.” Religion & Literature 25.1
(1993): 1-18. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Palomo, Dolores. “The Fate of the Wife of Bath’s “bad Husbands””. The Chaucer Review 9.4
(1975): 303–319. Web.
Prior, Sandra. “Virginity and Sacrifice in Chaucer’s Physician Tale.” Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the Middle Ages. Ed. Cindy L. Carlson and Angela Jane
Weisl. London: Macmillan, 1999. Print.
Salih, Sarah. Versions of Virginity in Late Medieval England. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2001. Print.
Smith, Warren S. “Dorigen’s Lament and the Resolution of the Franklin’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 36.4 (2002): 374-90. Web.
Storm, Melvin. “The Miller, the Virgin and the Wife of Bath.” Neophilologus 75.2 (1991): 291. ProQuest. 7 Dec. 2015 .

An African American Jamaican Explication of London by William Blake

Published November 28, 2015 by lorijss

An African Jamaican Explication of London by William Blake

Cities are notorious for insinuating dark and dreary emotions from internal corruption and oppression. London by William Blake paints a dark portrait of London as a city in desolation. Even though he may be writing about the environment at present, the depressing imagery of the poem can be applied to not only London but just about any corrupt city in the world. Not only is this poem a depiction of his time in London but a premonition of what’s to come. Repetition and juxtaposition are the most powerful devices that Blake uses as through this he is able to paint that haunting and sorrowful picture of gloom in every stanza. This in turn adds to the poem’s universality towards human suffering.
Repetition is at its strongest when he is repeating not necessarily words but dark emotions:
In every cry of every man
In every Infant’s cry of fear
In every voice, in every ban
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear: (5-8)
Here Blake is emphasizing the intricate reasons for every expression of grief. I think the repetition of ending sounds in words at the end of each line such as “Man” and” ban,” “fear” and “hear” represents the crying calls to be heard or for social consciousness.. “The mind-forged manacles I hear,” is him simply stressing the oppression that stems from political, economic and religious corruption. This line we see its universal application, it’s as if Blake is urging one to break free from the shackles of slavery, obviously in this case it would mean mental slavery. The speaker hearing these “mind-forged manacles” ears are tuned to the clanking of the chains tied to each person’s foot as they walk under the captivity that elicit their cries.
The description of these appalling conditions allows flexibility in interpretation. When he states “how the Chimney sweeper’s cry,” one can even imply that this sound of a cry is enough to seep into one’s soul; so this is more than hearing. “Every blackening church appalls” is stating that the conditions that the people are under while cleaning chimneys tells us that the church is allowing people to work under these appalling conditions by not being proactive about it at the time Blake is writing the poem. Here he is highlighting religious corruption or hypocrisy. There is a premonition of death because the chimney smoke can get into your lungs, thereby shortening your lifespan through respiratory diseases. This could mean that the smoke from the chimney is “blackening” the skins of the fair-skinned child workers. We see the juxtaposition here, “blackening” could symbolize the moral decay of the church. It could also mean that the skin of fair-skinned workers are “blackening;” they are now toiling like the enslaved Africans, including children, in the British colonies. Except now the conditions are a result of the Industrial Revolution. I think the word “blackening” in this poem leaves room for that sort of racial interpretation.
The last stanza serves as a reminder as to what it’s like walking the streets of a gloomy London all day. Then what that boils down to as the day nears its end. The dark tone seems to have been building up from bad to worse. When a reader subconsciously ties blackening from previous stanza with “midnight” from last stanza, there is another juxtaposition. Day fades into midnight as if to say day is “blackening.” What makes this very effective is what he describes after the scene is set –prostitution. This “blasts the new-born Infant’s tear,” could mean new born babies are born blind because of a parent’s venereal disease (Baym et al). It may mean that the prostitution doesn’t make the person fit to be a parent and so when the child is growing up he or she shed “tears” as a retaliation to their parent’s unfit parenting. Some might not know who the father of the child is given that history of prostitution. The missing parent causes an infant to cry as they suffer more without two parents. The line “Plagues the Marriage hearse” tells the apparent undermining of the sanctity of marriage. Married people engaging in prostitution as a way to make ends meet shows the deep rooted social issues Blake is letting his readers become aware of.
The strength of this poem lies it’s effective use of repetition of the word cry, and allowing the word “blackening” to be interpreted through different lenses. Its application goes far beyond just London, it is universal and represents that common human experience of suffering. Perhaps the repetition is Blake’s way of telling readers that the conditions described, repeats itself in the present day by day but that this will become the very history that will repeat itself in years to come. The speaker’s repetition of dreary emotions is a catalyst for change. Granted the cries doesn’t fall on deaf “unempathetic” ears, social awareness leads to social change. This may be what the speaker was trying to imply by ending the poem on such a gloomy note that these conditions, if we don’t nip it in the bud, will become a catastrophe.
Works Cited
Blake, William. “London.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013. 132-33. Print.

Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine. “London.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013. 132-33. Print.


Homo-eroticism in Hip Hop culture Part 2

Published February 14, 2012 by lorijss

“By and large the industry doesn’t really care about creating art that’s socially redeeming or challenges patriarchy. The music industry is largely amoral, and concerned mainly with making money,… “Making music that’s socially uplifting is not a priority. Priority is making music that’s socially viable, and I think that the artists know that and they do what sells.” – Bryon Hurt

The continued prevalence of Homo-eroticism in hip hop cultures is worthy of debate. I don’t know why these issue aren’t discussed more, I think most Black American males involved with hip hop are too ashamed or afraid to discuss homo-eroticism aka homosexual tendencies/natures in hip hop culture. The concentration of Homo-eroticism/homosexuality in hip hop culture came from prison culture, a dude telling another dude to “cut off his dick and put in his mouth” came from prison culture. Most rappers are consciously or unconsciously trying to be as homophobic as most Jamaicans are but they’d be protested against because homosexuals have rights under the US Constitution. This is probably why most rappers run away when approached with the subject of homosexuality in interviews.
Hip Hop culture is a play-ground for homo-eroticism because when male rappers refer to woman as “bitches” and “hoes” they are objectifying women as having no value. This bonds male rappers and separates them from the bond that they are suppose to have with women to create functional heterosexual relationships. This can even explain dysfunctional relationships among black American females and males but this isn’t my specialty so Ill leave it as that. In other words males rappers rap about other males in a way that displaces women from the position in which they should be in, if the male rappers are to be as heterosexual as they claim to be. Males rappers brag about other males being in a spot that really should be exclusive to a female. Male rappers rapping about dying for their “homies” and protecting their “homies” but never once say that they’ll die or protect for a female is but one of the strongest suggestion of homosexual connotations in hip hop music&culture.
I am going to compare Sean Paul  to rappers in general, to explain homo-eroticism among male rappers because Sean Paul for the most part is a Jamaican DJay. By comparing Sean Paul, a DJ to rappers one can more evidently see the excessive homo-erotic bonding between males in hip hop culture, and the homosexual connotations that this eventually leads to. Oh It’s calling rapping in hip hop but in dancehall it is called Djaying. Why am I comparing hip hop to Dancehall? Because the techniques and subculture used in Dancehall IS hip hop’s predecessor. Also I am trying to show that hip hop culture as evolved separately from the Jamaican immigrants that were originally responsible for introducing a lot of it’s subculture and techniques to black Americans, Hispanics etc. What was obviously not introduced by Jamaican immigrants was Homo-eroticism-homosexual connotations in hip hop, it is one of those things that have evolved from American prison culture.

Sean Paul Vs. Rappers

In Sean Paul’s early music videos such as Gimmie the Light, Get Busy, Like Glue, Temperature and I’m Still In Love With You Ft. Sasha, he is generally STANDING OR SITTING BY HIMSELF and DJaying about having a good time, partying, women, sex…etc subject matter is sort of like rap. I have to admit that Sean Paul as got Americanized or pop-like in his lyrics and music videos a large leap from Gimmie the Light but ah well.  I’m going to use Get Busy because that’s one of the early music videos in which Jamaicanization was rampant. In Get Busy there is no reference to other males like most rappers always do, he is simply Djaying about dancing and partying in reference to females. In various scenes,Sean Paul is both but a humble bystander, who is at the same time a humble DJ responsible for the party being entertaining. Notice that throughout the video, he is not dancing with his shirt off surrounded by half-naked girls that can’t dance which is usually the case in hip hop/rap videos. Also, notice that in this music video girls are ACTUALLY dancing, dancing is a art, a way of life, unlike in most hip hop videos there is half-naked girls standing around or jumping around. The thing about these half-naked girls is that they’re not ACTUALLY dancing but looking like “hoochie mamas”  or a “a dime a dozen” “hoes” “porn stars” “strippers.” Near the end of the video Sean Paul is portrayed as dancing with ONE girl, who is decently dressed. Sean Paul as a result flames in heterosexuality while most rappers dwindle in the very homo-sexual connotations that they are trying to run from. Rappers on the other hand have to surround themselves with a lot of stripper-looking, “hoochie mamas” while at the same time degrading these very women and glorifying their “home boys.” Sean Paul’s Get Busy represents authentic Jamaican/dancehall culture in New York city.
Not saying that all of Sean Paul’s videos are exactly like Get Busy but all of his songs like dancehall/reggae music&culture leaves no room for homo-eroticism. I think at the end of the day it’s not about the music video but the lyrics and the songs unless you’re Michael Jackson.There is NO male bonding that displaces women in dancehall/reggae culture.. Whereas in hip hop, most rappers have to “front” by having multiple girls standing around them doing nothing but behaving like “hoes” to hide homosexual connotations which only makes the later more visible. Most rappers are false pretenders or faking it instead of being. Reggae/dance hall music culture does not glorify male-bonding in it’s lyrics nor is there ever any room for homo-eroticism&homosexual connotations, if any of it does(haven’t heard of any) then it is a result of individual dancehall artiste who are ignorantly trying to act like the bulk of rappers. Underground rappers in my opinion by the time they go mainstream have countless connotations of homosexuality, because in the music industry a large part of being a successful mainstream rapper is to exhibit homosexual connotations and this is from my perspective, a Jamaican perspective.

“I’m into having sex I aint into making love…” In his video or song, this could be interpreted as trying to appeal to men. He’s not into making love because that void as already been filled by his homies. Making love with a woman would be disrupting to that bond he has already made with his homies that he entered the club with.  He is not into making love with a woman because he’s already done so with his “homies.” Perhaps he has already or is “making love” with his “homies.” In these lyrics he is also disconnecting from women by objectifying the very woman he claims to be interested in having sex with. What is this saying? Is his claims true? Does he really want the woman? He never objectifies his homies so what is this saying? This is a classic example of homo-eroticism because these lyrics leave room for homosexual connotations. Anyway hip hop has a lot of MALE BONDING that is always at the expense of heterosexuality, and hip hop leaves A LOT of room for homo-erotic tendencies it depends on the hip hop artiste though. Some hip hop artiste exhibit more homo-erotic behavior than others. I’m not going to put out a list because there is alot, Lil Wayne would be near the top of the list.

Homo-Eroticism in Hip Hop

Homo-Eroticism in Hip Hop

Homo-Eroticism in Hip Hop

P-Diddy’s “I Need a Girl.” In the song, he says, “you were more than my girl, we were like brothers,is another example of homo-eroticism in Hip hop culture. He is trying to say that he and his “homies” are closer to him or as close to him as a female is suppose to be if he is heterosexual. He and his “homies” are playing “fight under covers.” In hip hop culture I guess this is normal or ok.

Image taken from this site:http://corrinnebollendorf.com/2010/03/19/homoeroticism-and-hip-hop-a-hush-hush-situation/ Nelly swiping a credit card through a female’s behind is an example of homo-eroticism because he is portrayed has having no emotional attraction/connection to the girl comparably similar to a homosexual male who would also have no emotional attraction/connection to the female because of being homosexual. So Nelly is no different from an homosexual male, this image is a representation of homosexuality. Also Nelly swiping a credit card through the female’s behind is him degrading the woman, so if he is degrading the woman it could be interpreted as not actually attracted to her, he is not trying to look good in front of a female, he is not trying to appeal to a woman’s good taste, he is not trying to appeal to women, specifically women that respect themselves, this imagery only appeals to men. This imagery is sexist and represents a disconnect from women in general. Since he is really appealing to men and not females this can be interpreted as homosexuality in it’s own right. This imagery of Nelly swiping a credit card down a woman’s behind is sexually appealing to insecure men(who claim that they are straight), & homosexual men. Homosexual men may view this as Nelly not being attracted to women but to men and this is how homosexual men get turned on by listening to rap. This whole image is also a glorification of male bonding that displaces heterosexuality or displaces functional heterosexual relationships. The fact that rap music turns-on homosexual men despite alleged homophobia shows the homosociality of hip hop, which after all may not actually be as homophobic as some Americans think it is. This is why Sean Paul cannot be interpreted as having any homosexual connotations while most rappers can, because of the larger homosexuality-connotation atmosphere of hip hop culture.  When I compare these two genres of music&culture I see countless homosexual connotations in hip hop. The more rappers run from their homosexual connotations the more they go towards it. In other words rappers are as “gay” as they try not to be.

I think that hip hop needs to focus on being more authentic and uplifting and that is basically what this whole brag was about. Dancehall has it’s own set of issues but that is for a different post.